Other than correcting spelling and grammar mistakes, it can be difficult to decide how to focus your energy in the right places to improve your manuscript.
In this article, there are ten tips to help hone your focus and provide some actionable steps to knock your novel into shape.
1. Identify theme or message
What drove you to commit to writing a book? What is the purpose of your story? What is the truth you are trying to share with the world?
These might seem like big, broad questions, but the answers provide the invisible backdrop to your book. If you aren’t entirely sure what the theme or purpose of your story is, then it’s likely that your reader won’t be either.
Understanding the story’s core will provide a lens in which to view your characters and scenes during the developmental editing stage.
Don’t be frightened by this step; ‘theme’ doesn’t have to mean a ‘moral’ or something uniquely profound. It can be as simple as ‘justice and vengeance are two sides of the same coin’ or ‘the bonds of family and friends are ultimately the only things worth pursuing.’
Maybe you want to explore an emotion such as rage, or the consequences of acting on unconscious beliefs. Whatever the theme, ensure your book as a whole answers the question you implicitly proposed in the beginning. Talking of beginnings…
2. Focus on the beginning
The first line sets the tone for the rest of your book. Rework it. Test out alternatives. Make sure it hooks the reader into your unique world and shows them what to expect.
As an example, compare the draft version of 1984’s opening line:
‘It was a cold day in early April, and a million radios were striking thirteen.’
With the version that went to print:
‘It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.’
Can you see how a small tweak makes such a dramatic impact? Remember what I said about implicitly proposing a question to be answered by the end of the book?
In one short line, Orwell has managed to convey something fundamentally wrong with the world he is about to plunge the reader into, and by the end of 1984, we understand what that is.
One of my favorite sayings is: ‘the end is in the beginning and the beginning is in the end.’ Review your beginnings and ends to see how well they tie together.
3. Identify core conflict and reveal it through action
You had big plans for your book and there’s so much in your head to somehow make real on paper. Trying to cram everything you want to say into the story will slow it down and choke the plot.
Keep in mind your theme or core message as you examine each scene, highlighting the crucial plot elements and gearing your efforts to revealing it through the actions, reactions and thoughts of your characters. Cut away anything that is weighing the plot down or isn’t pushing your protagonist to grow and adapt.